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People forget that "ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE" is a Scorsese film. Look at it again and you'll see it is one hundred percent Scorsese. Totally focused on a female character. I read somewhere that Ellen Burstyn asked Scorsese "How well do you know women" and Scorsese replayed "Not well at all, but I'm willing to learn" The portrait of Alice adds something to film female characters that had never been present on the screen before. All those Joan Crawford fighting working class women seem like a joke compared to Ellen Burstyn's Alice. Jodie Foster steps into the screen with a funny, touching BANG. If you've never seen this film, hurry up! If you've seen it, see it again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This small and oft-overlooked offering from Martin Scorsese (his 4th feature) ranks among his best and most interesting for a number of reasons it's one of the only Scorsese films with a woman as the protagonist, and in typical Scorsese fashion she's tough, if a bit conflicted (like most of his male protagonists) and real, in other words. ALICE...also provides a another great glimpse of his very original style as it was developing the continuum between MEAN STREETS, this film, and TAXI DRIVER in look, mood and performance is perfect, as the post new-wave grit and furious energy of MEAN STREETS is a bit more focused here.
Overall, ALICE... is a more subdued character study which like life - swings from gripping to scary to funny to touching in the blink of an eye. Also notable as one of Scorsese's handful of non-New York stories (like LAST TEMPTATION, CASINO and KUNDUN), ALICE... follows Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn, fresh out of THE EXORCIST and at her peak) a California native, living in New Mexico with her truck driver husband. Suddenly widowed, Alice decides that she and Joey are going to take off, on what little cash they have left, for California, so she can pursue her long-dormant dream of becoming a singer. They make it as far as Arizona before Alice runs out of cash and has to stop to find work. After initially landing in Phoenix Alice ends up living in a rent-by-the-week motel in Tuscon, working at Mel's, a trashy diner run by its' amusingly belligerent namesake Mel (Vic Tayback), and staffed by the wild-but-wise Flo (Diane Ladd, in another amazing performance) and psychologically unstable Vera (Valerie Curtin). Before long Alice begins to put down roots, and she takes up with David (Kris Kristofferson), a local rancher.
The lone potential flaw is the ending, which feels like a compromise - if after discovering her confidence and independence, Alice feels like she oughta ride off into the sunset of Monterrey, she also wants companionship, and has allowed this desire to lead her into questionable choices in men (witness one of Harvey Keitel's most unforgettable performances) because of it. So, if a somewhat conflicted ideology lingers through a film where tough mindedness and harsh reality (interrupted by the occasional bit of lifelike, randomlike humor) gives way to romance, then perhaps it simply is indicative of how cerebral ideologies sometimes will or should crumble in the face of human emotions and desires.
In any case this thoughtful tension at the heart of this beautifully acted, beautifully filmed tour-de-force gives ALICE... a rich, earthy energy that places it among the most thoughtful and multifaceted films (like TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL and also the underrated KUNDUN) that Scorsese has ever made.
I actually prefer this film to Mean Streets or Raging Bull. Ellen Burstyn was always a personal favorite and she is absolutely brilliant as Alice. This film bears no resemblance to the sitcom that would spin off from it. This is a textured, touching and humorous look at a woman's journey BACK towards independence. It is far superior and a much more mature film than, say, Thelma & Louise. If you're looking for female "empowerment" movies. Alice is reality. The fine cast also includes, Harvey Keitel and Diane Ladd. Both in fantastic performances. This is just a great movie and very overlooked. If you're getting into Scorsese, don't miss this one!
Ellen Burstyn could play a tree stump and make it interesting. She's
one of the unsung heroes of post-studio cinema. At a time when meaty
women's roles were becoming more and more scarce, Burstyn was fighting
for and winning one great part after another. She's probably never been
better than she is here, though she showed tremendous range in "Same
Time, Next Year" and gave one of the most heartbreakingly harrowing
performances I've ever seen as recently as 2000, in "Requiem for a
Dream." Women's picture and Martin Scorsese are not two phrases that
would seem to be tailor made for each other, but a terrific women's
picture is exactly what Scorsese gives us with "Alice..." Though I hate
using the term women's picture, as if men can't enjoy stories about
women, or as if women's pictures are isolated from the rest of "real"
movies. Actually and ironically, maybe it was Scorsese's penchant for
the tough-guy milieu that made him so right for this film, because
"Alice" doesn't suffer from the burn-your-bra self-righteousness of
other women's lib movies of its era, like "Un Unmarried Woman." These
other films ultimately feel phony, because they were created for the
most part by men, who, however noble their intentions, simply didn't
have an understanding for the material. But Scorsese gets the character
of Alice, and Burstyn knows exactly what she's doing. So the conflict
isn't between Alice and the male world, but between the Alice who
doesn't have the confidence to be anything other than a doormat and the
Alice who wants to make a life for herself on her own terms.
There are some hilarious scenes between Alice and her son in this film, most particularly the scenes of them driving to California (like when Alice calls him Hellen Keller because he keeps asking "what?" to everything she says). Also, a subplot about the evolving friendship between Alice and Flo (played by Diane Ladd) becomes one of the film's highlights, not in the least because both actresses handle it expertly.
This is a winner, and must be seen by anyone who thinks Scorses is out of his element anywhere but the mean streets of NYC.
I loved this movie when I saw it in its initial release - after "The Exorcist", I thought Ellen Burstyn ruled the world. This movie is still good today, has many interesting and funny characters. There are touches that suggest director Martin Scorsese was still getting familiar with actors and camera movement - when Alice cries at an audition in a bar, and goes to another bar because they have a piano..its Marty all the way. Harvey Keitel & Jodie Foster are in the movie in small parts; maybe they were having their own audition - for "Taxi Driver". Diane Ladd is very funny as filthy-mouthed Flo, but Ellen Burstyn is fantastic in the part that won her an Oscar against some pretty stiff competition - Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown" among them - and she holds the movie together.
This has to be one of Martin Scorses's most enjoyable films. The film follows Alice (Ellen Burstyn) on a journey back to happier times after a tragedy forces her to make important decisions about her life. Needing a job to raise cash for this journey takes her and her son (the remarkably cheeky Alfred Lutter) on a journey of self discovery. Having a small talent for singing she eventually secures a job as a singer in a bar but flees town after meeting psychopathic Harvey Keitel. Eventually working as a waitress in Mel's Diner she becomes involved with the strangely uncharismatic Kris Kristofferson and realises she has finally met someone who really cares for her. The performances make this a remarkable film, Burstyn & Lutter are a great double act as mother and son, Harvey Keitel frighteningly plausible as a mentally unbalanced suitor and Jodie Foster sexually ambiguous as Lutters playmate. Diane Ladd excels as hard-bitten fellow waitress Flo and Jane Curtin and Billy Green Bush make an impact with barely half a dozen lines between them. Add to this a terrific musical score and inspiring cinematography and you have a timeless classic that is just crying out for a DVD release.
Starring the incomparable Ellen Burstyn, giving an Oscar-winning performance (one of the finest of the 1970s), this comedy-drama is gritty and tough, but never off-putting. After her husband dies, 35-year-old Alice Hyatt from New Mexico and her smart-mouthed 11-year-old son Tommy take to the road, chasing her girlhood dream of finding songbird success in Monterey, CA. They get stuck in Phoenix, where she meets up with a frightening Harvey Keitel. Later, waitressing at Mel & Ruby's Cafe in Tucson, she meets a gentle farmer who's had his share of heartbreak. This is a perceptive, amusingly knockabout film regarding ordinary people trying to make it, episodes in their lives that enrich or derail them. Alice and her son have a wonderfully natural give-and-take, and the oddballs they meet on their odyssey (like Jodie Foster's shoplifting tomboy or the sweet, overweight cowboy who gives Alice a singing job) are deliciously silly, yet incredibly real. Burstyn is a joy cutting up with her neighbor in the backyard, having a Coke fight with her kid in a seedy motel, trading quips with Diane Ladd's salty Flo in the diner. Some critics complained that the happy ending felt tacked on, but you come to really respect Alice and her choices, and most of the film's little faults are camouflaged by director Martin Scorsese's bittersweet framing and Robert Getchell's vivid screenplay. Far superior to the TV sitcom, "Alice". **** from ****
When I was younger, my sister and I would spend countless hours each day
watching television. One of the programs we found ourselves glued to was
Alice. For those who may not remember the show too clearly, one phrase
help jog your memory... "Kiss my grits!"
If that didn't help, you probably have never seen the show (or as some
say... "it was before my time.")
Anyway... last night I saw a film titled Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Upon starting the movie, all I knew about it was that it was directed by the great Martin Scorsese, and that it was about a widowed wife and her son who drive across the country. To my great surprise, the character Alice is the same character from the TV sitcom. I didn't put two and two together until halfway through the film when it showed the diner with Mel and the other two waitresses. It was fun to see the other characters like Flo, Vera and Mel (the movie's Mel was the same actor as the TV show's Mel). Many of the elements were similar between television and movie; the only noticeable difference was the tone. On television, the show was a sitcom comedy made to get a good laugh every few minutes.
The film, however, was a bit more serious because of various real life situations (relationships, child upbringing, death).
This coincidence made things much more interesting as the film continued. Don't get me wrong, the movie was pretty damn good already; I just seemed to enjoy it a bit more when I started putting the pieces together. Scorsese, once again, showed his incredible directing skills. He was able to bring the viewer into the extreme pain and desperation of the main character, while at the same time, show the positive things in Alice's life through his use of color and cinematography.
Overall, the film was enjoyable because it was quite heart warming (in contrast to the more famous gangster type films by Scorsese). It made me wish that either the television show were still on syndication, or that I get to chance to see this film sometime again.
Martin Scorsese's reputation as the director of some of the best
gangster movies of all time often obscures his enormous sensitivity to
the nuances of every-day modern life. Despite being his first
commercial success, 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' is probably
Scorsese's most overlooked film, which is shameful, because it is
arguably his best, and in any analysis, deserves acknowledgment as one
of the most honest and, ultimately, uplifting portraits of
working-class womanhood written and directed by men.
The scenario is familiar to anyone with a vague awareness of late 1970s American pop culture, as it was adapted into a successful TV sit-com, 'Alice,' starring Linda Lavin in the title role originated by the great Ellen Burstyn: a former lounge singer who traded a dicey future for the stability of blue-collar married life in suburban New Mexico, Alice Hyatt finds herself suddenly widowed, with little to no money, no career possibilities or job experience, and a precocious (and frequently obnoxious) twelve year-old son (Alfred Lutter, who went on to make 'The Bad News Bears' before growing up and disappearing) to provide for. With few other options on hand, Alice determines to restart her singing career back in Monterrey, California, the last place she remembered feeling truly happy and optimistic about the future. She packs her life and her son into the family station wagon and makes her way west, stopping off first in Phoenix (where the sit-com is set) and then in Tucson, trying to save enough cash to get to Monterrey. En route, she suffers defeat, humiliation, and a continuation of her serial attraction to abusive men, until finally she finds herself reduced to a job as a waitress in a roadside café, the now-ubiquitous 'Mel's Diner,' a dive dominated by the profane banter between saucy head waitress Flo (Diane Ladd) and cook/owner Mel (Vic Tayback). Alice finds herself living in an extended-stay fleabag motel, pinching pennies and praying for a bit of luck, which dubiously arrives in the form of David (Kris Kristofferson), a local rancher whom Alice feels herself falling for but is unable to trust, thanks to her history of abuse at the hands of formerly charming men.
Scorsese's innovative, trademark camera work is on ample display here, along with his art-house director's penchant for the unusual (the film opens with an homage to 'The Wizard of Oz,' in which Dorothy is replaced by the young but already brassy and foul-mouthed Alice). But this is a story about humanity, and Scorsese knows enough to step back and let his brilliant lead actress fill up the screen with her honesty and emotional range.
Ellen Burstyn won the 1976 Best Actress Oscar for this film, and it's easy to see why. Scorsese clearly knew what he had on his hands: Burstyn's Alice is both tough and vulnerable, desperate and determined. Burstyn lets the camera linger on her aging face (she was 42 when the film was released), which, strangely enough, is more beautiful and alluring than the polished appearances of most of today's actresses. Alice faces countless hardships, and Burstyn makes them feel as true as any we face in our own lives. She tries to keep up a bright face for Tommy, her quirky, quizzical son, but has moments of naked, gut-wrenching despair as she tries to fathom how she'll ever be able to support herself. Burstyn was herself a singer and a waitress before finding success as a film actress, and her vocal performances are powerfully affecting--pitch-perfect, but shaky enough to reveal her inner vulnerability. She is a brilliant vehicle for this portrait of the life of a hard-luck woman with no one to trust. The film is full of fine, heartbreakingly memorable moments--Alice weeps in bed next to her husband Donald (Billy Green Bush) after another silent, loveless dinner, and the two clutch each other, unable to speak, Alice's disappointment outweighed only by her desperate need; after a long day of rejections, Alice breaks down into tears before a gentle bar manager, who ultimately caves in allows her to audition for him, whereupon she performs a heartbreaking medley of standards for a stunned crowd of average joes in a dingy piano bar; Alice gets a rare moment of joy, drunkenly sitting up from the kitchen table to show David her first dance routine after making love for the first time. These moments feel so real and honest that you almost forget you're watching a movie.
The supporting performances are all easily above par, especially Diane Ladd as Flo, a role made famous for the sanitized 'Kiss my grits' line immortalized by Ladd's TV counterpart, Polly Holliday (interestingly, Ladd briefly succeeded Holliday on the TV 'Alice' in the role of 'Belle' after Flo got her own short-lived spin-off). Alice and Flo initially clash, but eventually form a sisterly bond, revealing that in many ways they are opposite sides of the same coin (curiously, Diane Ladd and Ellen Burstyn were born within a month of each other, Burstyn in Detroit and Ladd in Mississippi). Alfred Lutter's Tommy is perfectly exasperating but also lovable. Kris Kristofferson's David manages to be 'too good to be true' without being unbelievable as the first good man in Alice's life. Harvey Keitel (as a rakish suitor), Jodie Foster (as a spunky ne'er-do-well who befriends Tommy), and, of course, Vic Tayback, are all perfect in their smaller, supporting roles.
'Alice . . .' deserves to be revisited again and again. It's so close to the experience of single mothers in the 1970s that it could be considered a documentary. It's also frequently very funny, capturing the small bits of laughter and silliness in normal life with pitch-perfect accuracy. I doubt that there has ever been another film that has made fictional characters feel so real and true. Alice is a true heroine--a survivor--and sharing her travails and triumphs, you feel the empathy and involvement that only appear in transcendent art.
Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is the film that brought director
Martin Scorsese into the commercial limelight; and even though he's had
many bigger successes since, this simple and easily accessible story of
a woman and her son is well worked and interesting; and personally, I
prefer it to a number of his more famous gangster films. The plot is
very simple, thus making the film easy to follow and therefore light
viewing; and it could also be called a 'chick flick'. However, Scorsese
directs with his usual verve and manages to implement a number of
memorable characters along the way; some of which are played by the
stars of future Scorsese films. The film starts when we are introduced
to a young girl named Alice, who has aspirations of being a singer.
Several years later, and after the death of her husband, she and her
son set off across the country in order for her to pursue her dream
career. After her first job and choice of boyfriend go awry, she
travels on and ends up meeting a man named David.
This film provides an acting credit for Ellen Burstyn who, just as she would go on to do in the likes of The Exorcist, delivers a well worked and believable performance. Kris Kristofferson is her opposite number, although he doesn't get to flex his acting muscles much - while Taxi Driver co-stars Jodie Fosters and Harvey Keitel deliver memorable portrayals in small roles. The film benefits from a very well written script, which manages to give credence to all of its lead characters, which elevate the film above similar material in its class. The locations are well used, and the director does well in implementing a gritty country style; as well as the central theme of ordinary people trying to make something out of themselves. The main problem with the film is that sometimes it can be a little too light-hearted, and some of the heavier plot ideas aren't allowed to shine through as they should. Overall, this film may be disliked by fans of Scorsese films such as Goodfellas and Casino, and it definitely is a chick flick; but personally, I have no qualms with naming it as one of the better films on Scorsese's list of film credits.
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